Author Spotlight: Brett Petersen (Video)

Brett Petersen was our very first client here at The LetterWorks, and fourteen of the pieces we’ve edited for him have been published or accepted for publication as of this posting! In addition to being a writer, he is also a musician and visual artist.

Brett and Josh sat down for a freewheeling conversation about what inspires him, his process and artistic hierarchy, goals, Star Wars, and… Hanson? Watch now, and scroll down for links to his stories and music!

Short Fiction:

CAVO
The Parasite From Proto-Space
Friday Tradition
A Free Ride to Pleroma
Inanimate Object Fibromatosis & Asbestos Leprosy
The Epic Quest of the Three ARMS
The Light in the Sky
Billy-Sally
The Summoning of the Memory Eaters
The Funeral Machine
The Walrus Who Touched the Sun
Ca-Caw
Sleep is One of Those Luxuries
Crystal Donut World
Cats and Dogs: A Bildungsroman for the Post-Post-Post-Modern Age
Javi and Bobby
The Labyrinth & the Jingling Keys

Music:

Raziel’s Tree
Brett Solo

Author Spotlight: Jeff Wheeler by Amanda Wayne

Jeff Wheeler is a Wall Street Journal bestselling author of several fantasy novels. Among them are the Kingfountain and Muirwood series. His books are a blend of legend, history, and theology. He worked for many years at Intel before deciding to pursue his writing career fulltime. After dozens of rejections from traditional publishing houses, he opted to self-publish his books. This captured the attention of 47North, an Amazon publishing house. Four years after his early retirement from the IT world, Jeff Wheeler is quickly becoming a force in the literary world. He revived Deep Magic, a clean fantasy e-zine, to give writers in the subgenre a place to submit their works. Jeff’s unorthodox rise from rejection to success is an example to writers of how to overcome adversity and forging their own path to become a bestselling author. He is a devoted husband and father and a devout member of his LDS congregation. Jeff was kind enough to answer some questions for us today! (No spoilers!)

 

TLW: One of the many things I admire about your fantasy novels is the way in which you portray women. Your ladies are more Buffy than the “damsel in distress” trope. You take care to avoid writing female characters as powerless victims in a largely patriarchal society. Even your female villains are strong and powerful. What made you decide to go this much more female empowering route?

JW: It probably started with Princess Leia. I was in elementary school when the first Star Wars film came out; I still remember seeing it in the theater, and it made a huge impression on me. I grew up with mostly brothers, but then my mom had two girls and both were powerful (they needed to be when so outnumbered by us!) I’ve never liked writing stereotypes, so I’m not deliberately trying to make one sex stronger or weaker than the other. What I want is for my characters to feel realistic and human. I married a very strong woman, and she’s been an inspiration to me since we knew each other as teenagers. When I create characters, I want them to feel like real people. Many of them are actually inspired by real people—especially the girls.

 

You manage to marry historical fiction, Arthurian legend, and an undercurrent of theology into a fantasy series. This is quite an accomplishment. What made you think that a recreation of Richard III’s timeline into your fantasy world could work? How did you meld the genres so seamlessly?

I’ve always had a love of history and a love of fantasy, and it’s very natural for me to blend them together. I did my master’s thesis on an aspect of Richard III and have read many books and documents about that era. It’s part of my personal history, too—one of my ancestors died fighting in the same battle that killed Richard III. Like so many creative people, I often get my inspiration by mashing together ideas to form something new. I know a lot about the War of the Roses and thought that the setting would be an interesting era to write in. I mixed in some Arthurian legends and a trip to Yosemite, and voilà!

 

 

On the subject of theology, the Fountain magic has been compared to The Force. The Virtus concept is Roman based, but also carries some connotations of the Jedi code of honor. Your protagonists are self-sacrificing and honorable almost to a fault. In order to create tension, their adherence to their faith and their sense of nobility is constantly being tested. Were you ever tempted to have one of them fail their oaths and be destroyed by it?

Most people are inspired by inspiring stories. It sells a lot of Chicken Soup for the Soul books! There are so many examples in the world today of people who let others down or about those who are driven by greed and self-interest. I’m not interested in telling those kinds of stories. What I’ve always loved are those examples of people who gave it all for a higher cause. Those are the people I admire. Will I ever write a story about someone who doesn’t live up to that ideal? You never know. I like to surprise my readers.

 

One of the most poignant themes in your novels is that of the choice between free will and destiny. Did you find, in your research, that stories in our own history seem to repeat? Are we doomed to relive them until we learn from our mistakes?

It’s amazing to me how much history repeats itself. Take the Oath Maidens, for example, from the second half of the Kingfountain series. After coming up with that idea, I began to look for examples of more ‘Shield Maidens of Rohan’ (a nod to Tolkien) in history. I found so many. Yes, sometimes I think we are doomed to repeat mistakes if we don’t learn from them, but I also believe that every individual is capable of getting out of their cycle and doing better. History proves that is possible, too. But it’s always hard and many don’t try.

 

Your novels are in the subgenre of clean fantasy. The violence, while overt and necessary, is much more muted than in other literature. The human interactions are sweet and chaste. While there are some hints in your books of people engaging in activities that are unbecoming, your main characters are never put in positions that are untoward. Is it difficult to write in this genre and not fall into the modern trend of gory, explicit violence and oversexualization?

Let me put it this way: I think it is more difficult to write without those things than it is to include them. It’s easy to rely on the sensational or the sordid for its shock value. For years I worried that the audience for “clean fantasy” was shrinking and that no one would want to read the kind of stories I was interested in telling. But I made a commitment to myself and my family and God that I would write counter to the trend because I believe in it so strongly. It’s what motivated me to love the genre to begin with. When I started having success with my Muirwood books, it proved to myself (and my publisher) that the market for cleaner fare was ready for a change. It’s not a small niche, either. As a result of the success of my books, I re-started my old e-zine, Deep Magic, to encourage and provide a venue for other authors who share similar values and a market for readers who want more. I think the pendulum swung too far toward the darker fare. It’s gratifying seeing more and more family friendly fantasy in the market these days.

 

On the subject of writing as a craft, you managed to write three whole novels in six months. NaNoWriMo is considered an extreme, even insane, challenge for authors. Writing and editing three books in such a short time is incredible! You quit a successful IT career to become a fulltime author, but how did you stay motivated? What helped you keep writing?

I have the best job in the world—for me. Even when I was in school, I dreamed of being a fulltime author someday. I’m also grateful that I was given the chance to do what I love. Like with any job, it takes a certain amount of self-discipline not to be distracted by social media, cat videos, or the like and to knuckle down and get to work. But I love what I do and it’s not hard to stay motivated. I have a wife and five kids to support, after all! While I don’t miss the cubicle life, I’m grateful for all that I learned working for Intel. Some of it has even inspired my writing.

 

Do you have any advice for authors who are still trying to get a foot in the door?

Persistence and practice. I’ve studied the lives of successful people from all disciplines and the one thing they all have in common in uncommon persistence. That’s especially true in a field where there is so much rejection. I had 42 agents tell me no. I still don’t have an agent. But I refused to quit. What I didn’t realize was that my publisher hadn’t even been born yet. Timing is everything. And about practice, I heard from Terry Brooks (the man who inspired me to write), who attributed the quote to Stephen King, that after you’ve written your first million words, then you’re ready to start being an author. A million of anything is a lot. So practice. And keep practicing.

 

You have nothing but praise for your developmental editor. Many authors don’t know what developmental editors are or how they can help. Why did you decide that the Whispers of Mirrowen books needed a structural edit? What have you learned about the process that you can share with our readers?

I didn’t even realize that developmental editors existed until I landed my first publishing deal. My publisher, 47North, assigned a dev editor to work with me on the Mirrowen series. They didn’t do that with Muirwood because it was already on the market and already doing quite well with readers! So they re-packaged it, did some general grammatical fixing, and then recorded the audio and boom, it was ready. But I’ve found having a dev editor to be an incredibly beneficial part of my writing process. If I had known what they were and what they did, I would have used them back when I started. Even when I self-publish books, I use my team. Their input is incredibly valuable to me.

 

You went from a dedicated cubicle professional to a WSJ bestseller in just a few short years. How does it feel to be such a successful author and do you have any words of wisdom to pass along to writers hoping for success like yours?

Sometimes I do pinch myself to make sure it’s not all a dream. But to be honest, it feels very normal now. I try to foster an attitude of gratitude and appreciation every single day. It is an enormous blessing to do for a living what you love, and I certainly haven’t gotten tired of it at all. It’s a privilege having fans, impacting them in some small way, and an honor hearing from them. I try to be responsive because I remember what it felt like to hear back from authors I admired. Back in the day  you had to mail them letters! That’s one of the reasons I said yes to this interview.

 

You just revealed that you are halfway through writing a new series. What can we expect from this new series? Can you give us any hints?

I never do spoilers! The pre-order page is live along with the stunning cover art for STORM GLASS. This series will be longer than my normal ones (5 books instead of the usual 3) and will feature two main characters who see the world and the plot from very different points of view. Both characters are fun to write and sometimes I struggle as to which POV I want to focus on next. The setting will be sort of Dickensian. That’s it. No more teasers!

In Bed with Jill Hamilton by Amanda Wayne

When I started researching Jill Hamilton for this interview, I ran into a rather unique problem. Every site I visited had her essays and tips. I kept getting sucked into them and forgetting that I was there to do actual work. I wasn’t there to learn about the weirdest sex inventions, seminars for vagina meditation, or octopus fetishes. I just wanted to find out about her degree from the University of Michigan and any random tidbits on her personal life that I could. I used every millennial surfing trick I possessed. I was all over social media, scouring website “about me” blurbs, and lurking on professional networking sites. I was this close to paying one of those stalker sites to get some good info on her. I knew super intimate details about her, but not the boring surface stuff that I knew about my neighbor’s sister. Jill manages to make it feel perfectly ordinary to read about things I only talk about with my best friend after we split one of the really big bottles of cheap wine.  It turns out that reading all of Jill’s entire anthology of essays was all the research I needed on this enigmatic lady. Jill has written for major magazines such as Rolling Stone and Cosmo and Entertainment Weekly. Her blog, www.inbedwithmarriedwomen.com, is hilarious and full of useful information. She agreed to answer a few questions for me and it was every bit as entertaining as I had hoped.

You have built this persona as a sexpert, writing for Cosmo, Salon, Alternet, Jezebel and many others. How did you fall into this crazy line of work where you make money talking about sex? 

My first Cosmo story was about 10 Weirdest Sex Devices or something like that. One of the things was a 70s-era bra with built-in nipples. The joke was about would happen if your actual nipples decided to make an appearance.  That is, 2 nipples = sexy, yet 4 nipples = not so much.

It mutated into me doing a stint as a sexual guinea pig, testing out Ye Olde Cosmo Tips–Use a scrunchie during a BJ! Smear food all over yourselves!  I have literally taken money for having sex (with my husband, for a Cosmo story, but still.) Whorish? Best job ever? Answer unclear.

What was the first big break you got as a writer?

I found out (long story) that there was a concert at a local nudist park in Michigan featuring Foreigner, Eric Burdon and others of that ilk. I sent a query to the delightful Jancee Dunn at Rolling Stone and she sent me to cover it. In case you were wondering, no one in Foreigner got naked, but everyone around me–who were exactly the age and demographic you could expect of older, not especially-toned nudists in Michigan– were butt naked, but for, incongruously, shoes and socks.

At what point did you decide to just embrace the baser side of humanity and write about the kinds of things people read in an incognito window?

Short answer:  Why bother with anything else?

Longer answer: I was sitting at the friggin’ Chuck E. Cheese with my friend, and we were discussing our moribund sex lives. What were the other preschool mothers doing about this? Was that one lady who looked like a grandma still banging her grandpa-looking husband? Were people having affairs? Did people just let their sex lives die, chalking it up to “maturity” and focusing really really hard on something like scrap booking?

I decided to start a blog In Bed With Married Women to ask people just this. (I am alarmingly nosy.) The idea was going to be a sociology study, with women just telling their stories. Like Studs Terkel but with more nudity.  The thing was, stories about marital sex are about as interesting as actual marital sex.

About the same time I saw an ad for something called Anal Ring Toss and I kind of veered in a whole different direction. This is still the central tension in the blog today–between a serious look at sex and what the hell it even is vs. the immature joy of finding a Japanese sex spray that smells like “secretary.”

What advice do you have for moms trying to live both lives?

My kids are kind of like Stepford children and are bizarrely good and smart. Advice for others:  just do the parts you want. Like I don’t really fold clothes as much as bend them into smaller shapes.

Do you ever have trouble making those pieces work together? “Lift your left leg on to your partner’s right shoulder and- Hey! Don’t eat with scissors!”

I actually have said “Don’t eat with scissors.”  They were safety scissors, but still.  My kids are older now and they know way too much about what I do. I think it’s good though. Knowledge is power and all that. My sixteen-year-old, Maddie, is cheeky as hell and makes up fake positions that I should be sending to Cosmo.  I think the most recent one was the New Year’s themed “The Ball Drop” for the older gentleman.

What advice would you give to someone trying to get their first set of words in print? 

Write something. If you don’t, maybe you aren’t actually a writer. Maybe you’re a chef or something.

Do you ever get tired of writing about sex? 

Positions, yes. So yes. But sex, not yet.

Does anyone ever recognize you and ask for sex advice?

People ask me about sex toys. If you’re asking, I am currently going steady with an iRock by Doc Johnson.

You have a very intimate writing style. It is unapologetically frank and quite charismatic. Did this come naturally to you or did you develop it over time?

This sounds so ick and pretentious, but if you’re not talking about something real, what’s the point?

You seem to go to a lot of sex seminars and workshops, is it usually a sausage fest? Or are the sexes equally represented?

Both; people are generally earnest.  They want to be decent lovers, have good sex lives and are open to learning something new.

In the 60s, America had a sexual revolution and women came out of the kitchen burning bras and marching for rights. Women have started to march again. What do you think the future generations will have to say about what women accomplished now?

I think they will think it’s ridiculous that we were so backwards.

Do you think we have gone too far? America’s modern mother is a bread winner, bacon cooker, house maid, PTA president, soccer mom, 5k runner who also is forward thinking enough to want to be on top when the lights go down. Is this equality?

Equality is when we all can feel comfortable and able to be whoever we are. Men women, black, white, whatever.

If you could have a one minute Superbowl ad to impart your wisdom to the masses of men and women in America, what would you say?

Science is real, you fucking morons.  Hmmm, maybe should tone that down a little. (Nah!)

You interact with your readers a lot. Are you ever afraid an overzealous fan will use internet skills to find you and show up at your door? 

Eighty-five percent of my readers are exactly who I hoped–super smart, funny and curious. I adore them. The weirdest people were a group of Nazis on Twitter who got all roused/riled up by a piece on pegging I did. They were super furious, yet oddly obsessed. They were like “Are you a Jew? Cause you write like one.” I said “No, but thank you!” and they got even madder.

What’s next for Jill Hamilton? Your own sex toy line? Lingerie? A book? Directing female friendly adult films? Parenting books? Cooking show?

I’m eternally working on a book, though by “working” I mean thinking about it, then playing Words With Friends.

Author Spotlight: Nelson Lauver by Amanda Wayne

Nelson Lauver is a man of extensive talents. An advocate for dyslexics, author, motivational speaker, and syndicated radio storyteller, he has made his life about words. As a child with undiagnosed dyslexia, he struggled with words. Nelson is a successful businessman, having learned outside the classroom how to work the world around him.  He hired people to handle the reading and writing aspects of his various businesses. He didn’t become literate until his late twenties, and then he made up for lost time by making words his life, his living, and his calling. He speaks to audiences around the globe, even to NASA! His acclaimed book is given away for free to parents and teachers in the hope that his personal story of successes and failures can help adults engage with dyslexic children and spare them some of the hardships he overcame. You can find your free copy of his memoir at https://www.nelsonsbook.com.

 

You have written extensively about your life with dyslexia and how you overcame those challenges to become a successful author. To what do you attribute your success in moving past those obstacles? 

N — Constant curiosity, especially about people and the desire to learn something new from them, and then share what I have learned.

 

What advice do you have for other authors struggling with learning disabilities?

N — I don’t think of myself as having a learning disability.  I certainly respect the opinions of others who feel they have a learning disability.  I think of myself as having a learning difference (I learn differently from others).  With that said, there are upsides and downsides regardless of what label one puts on it. Tech has changed everything!  There are many tech options for every individual reading and writing style. For instance, I prefer to read with my ears and write with my voice.

 

You have made a name for yourself doing motivational and comedic performances in front of audiences across the country. Is there any venue or audience that really stood out for you? 

N — Yes, those who know my story know that I was an academic failure.  I just couldn’t learn in the traditional brick and mortar schoolhouse, and the punishments at school were brutal, archaic, and downright criminal.  My local school district couldn’t wait to purge me from the system. Eventually, new administrators replaced retiring ones, and things slowly started to change. Imagine my delight when I received the invitation to appear at my old school to discuss achievement and success with the students.

 

You have said that you believe dyslexics make excellent problem solvers because they learn to read society as a way around learning to read and write. Do you think this unique learning experience aided you in being a successful businessman and entrepreneur? 

N — A study by the Cass School of Business found that 35% of American Entrepreneurs identify as dyslexic.  This fact plays out over and over again in discussions as researchers try to discern why.

The “why” is pretty simple; by the time we finish with all things educational, we’ve had our bellies full of people telling us how to do things that don’t work for us.  It’s good to be king — It’s better to be your own boss.

 

What do you think non-dyslexics can learn from the dyslexic way of learning? 

N— That everyone learns best when they learn in the style that is best for them.

 

You have an impressive online presence. Do you have any marketing tips for writers looking to improve their sales or recognition?

N– It’s a business and nothing happens in business until someone sells something.  My dad always said, “Selling is like shaving, you have to do it every day.”  Sell!

 

You provide your memoir free to parents and teachers. What do you most hope your book teaches those interacting with struggling dyslexics? 

N– That the only reason people with the dyslexic mind struggle to learn is because society struggles to teach them. After I broke even on my Memoir (10,000 or so copies), I simply started giving books away (at cost) in service of the true mission of the book.  The e-book is 100% free.  I owned a broadcast media company and because of the similarities, it was very easy and suited my needs better than using an outside source for publishing.

To date, I have sold, provided at cost, and given away somewhere north of 250,000 copies of my original book.

 

As an author of a memoir, is it difficult to put your private life out into the world? Do you ever find it unsettling to run into someone you have never met who knows such personal things about you?

N– What I find unsettling is not what I have shared, and always happy to discuss with a stranger, but what questions a reader may have but finds themselves afraid to ask… and moreover, why are they afraid to ask.

 

What was the moment when you decided that your life was interesting enough that other people would actually want to read about it? Were you just brushing your teeth one day and thought, “Wow, I am just a really fascinating person. I should write a book about my life”?

N– I never wrote a book thinking my life was interesting.  I knew for a dozen or so years that I needed to write a book regarding my early life.  Finally, I could no longer turn away; I had a duty to tell my story as a way of helping others. I gave it a great deal of thought and decided that if I were to undertake a book, It would be necessary do it right. If you want to write a book to become famous or because you are famous and you just want to hear yourself talk; best of luck to you.  If you need to write a book because you feel compelled to help others, it will be necessary to cut yourself open and bleed onto every page of every chapter.  Your blood must saturate your book if you truly wish for change.  As hard as it is you must relive the experience to tell your story; best of luck to this type of author, as well.

 

What accomplishment or accolade makes you proudest?

I have a lot of plaques, awards, and citations for my “achievements.”

What I don’t have is even one award for any of my many miserable “failures.” Almost everything I do well is a direct result of learning by screwing up. I would be so happy to hang an award for “failure” as it has been my greatest teacher.

 

What can you tell us about speaking for NASA? Did you do any special research before that performance?

N– I have been a keynoter for NASA twice. They are lovely people, as I find all my audiences to be.  The thing that struck me most about the folks at NASA came during my tour of the space station assembly area.  I got to walk through a space station unit that had returned to earth, AND it had the same identical $39 microwave in it that I had at home.  I figured the rocket scientist at NASA were either as down to earth as I am OR I’M AS SMART AS A ROCKET SCIENTIST!

 

Your book is ironically entitled “Most Unlikely to Succeed.” Why did you decide on this title versus others you may have considered? 

N– The raw honesty that comes with adversity and the fact that we should never negatively speculate on the outcome of anyone’s life.

 

Do you have any advice for new authors hoping to become published?

N– Your best chance to become published is to become a publisher. It’s never been easier.  Read “The Well-Fed Self Publisher.”  As I said earlier, it’s good to be king; It’s better to be your own boss.

 

What’s your latest or next project? 

N– I’m wrapping up another book about dyslexia and then moving on to a highly curious subject: the female soul.  Stay tuned!